Module 25 — Size Matters

You’ve probably heard me say it before: in watercolor, size (scale) matters. Any sort of wet-in-wet effect depends on the physical properties of the pigment, water and paper. You might be able to coax something to happen in a slightly smaller or larger area, by changing pigments, amount of water or type of paper, but there’s a limit to how much influence you can have. What works for a small painting doesn’t necessarily work for a large one, and vice versa.

Even if you work in a different medium, the size (or length) and format you choose for your work determines part of how it will be experienced, and who it might appeal to. Novel, short story, poem? Song or symphony? Mural or miniature?

Module 25 Thinking Prompt—Being More Deliberate about Size and Format

What Are Your “Default Settings”?

What sizes and formats do you typically choose for your work? Have you chosen these for artistic effect? Practical reasons?

When you judge how successful your painting is, do you consider what role the size and format might play in getting the effect you want? Or are you just working at a particular size or format because that’s what size and format the paper comes in?

Practical Concerns

Many people work at certain sizes for pragmatic reasons, for example

  • to have small works at a lower price point
  • to use pre-cut paper
  • to keep framing costs down
    If this is you, have you considered whether you sometimes struggle to achieve the effects you want because the size or format is working against you? Is the trade-off (always, sometimes) acceptable in exchange for the benefits of working at that chosen size?

What about the size of your brushes? Your work surface?

Creative Choices

How does the overall size and format affect the viewer’s experience of a painting? How would it feel to see a painting of the Grand Canyon that was 12 feet wide compared to 12 inches wide? How would it feel to stand in front of a portrait that’s taller than you are, compared to a miniature in a locket?

What about the relative sizes of things in the painting to one another and to the picture plane as a whole?

How does size/length/format play a role in the artworks you create? How can you use exploit these features to get the effects you want?

Module 25 Activity Prompt—Goldilocks Design

Create a simple scene with three main elements. For example, a landscape with a barn, a tree and a bucket, or a still life with three kitchen item, or three figures, etc. Try rearranging so that one is much larger than the others. Maybe it’s in the foreground, or maybe the items can actually be different sizes, or maybe you don’t worry about what’s “real”.

Then create variations, letting these three elements take turns with the roles of “Papa Bear”, “Mama Bear” and “Baby Bear”.

How do the size variations change the feel of the artwork or the story that seems to go with it? How can you use this to create more interesting stories or more powerful moods in your artwork?

Note: this is one place where I often start with a digital app so I can resize and reposition easily, and then copy or print the sketches and put them in my notebook., or work on copy paper so I can feel more free to be scribbly and tape or glue that in as a fold-out page

Module 25 Journaling Together Video

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